These days, consumers can obtain everything from newspapers to meal kits to credit monitoring services through subscriptions. The prevalence of these services, and the ease with which consumers can sign up, have gotten the attention of regulators who are concerned that some negative option marketing might confuse or trick consumers. The CFPB, FTC, and state AGs have been particularly vocal about practices they deem “dark patterns,” and continue to focus on the area.
Today, the CFPB put out guidance warning covered companies and service providers that “dark patterns” surrounding negative option marketing violate the Consumer Financial Protection Act’s prohibition on unfair, deceptive, or abusive acts or practices. As the circular makes clear, the CFPB has already brought enforcement actions alleging deceptive practices around negative options (see this case against a consumer reporting agency, and this case against a company that provided registration and payment services to organizers of events and races). The announcement also notes that the CFPB’s approach to negative option “dark patterns” is generally harmonized with that of the Federal Trade Commission (the FTC put out its own Enforcement Policy Statement Regarding Negative Option Marketing in October 2021). The guidance highlights the need for companies using negative option marketing to ensure that consumers: 1) understand the material terms of the negative option; 2) provide informed consent before being charged; and 3) are able to easily cancel recurring charges.